This morning I celebrated Mass at the Poor Clare Monastery in Andover, Massachusetts. The crucifix in their chapel portrays Christ in agony a few moments before death looking up to the Father (view it here, bottom right). Because of its prominence in the chapel, the sisters look at this image many times a day. Beneath the crucifix is a tabernacle and monstrance. Everyday the sisters spend several hours here. I wonder how their hearts are moved by their frequent beholding of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. As cloistered sisters their “work” is unseen by the world. The value of their contemplation outweighs anything that we can make with our hands or accomplish by our efforts. How many souls have been converted on account of their prayers?
In today’s first reading we heard the rhetorical question, “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah?” (Hosea 6:4a). We could rightly add our own names to the list because we, too, are convicted by what follows, “Your loyalty is like morning mist, like the dew that disappears early” (Hosea 6:4b). We do not know how to pray as we ought and we are unable to persist in our piety for long. Our weakness should not lead to despair, but to hope. It is true that God strikes down sinners and kills them with the word of his mouth (cf. Hosea 6:5). If we rightly account our weakness, however, we become strong because God promises to heal us, bind our wounds, and raise us up (cf. Hosea 6:1-2).
Our Lord told a parable of two men praying in the temple area, the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14). The Pharisee thought himself righteous, though what he thought mattered little because one cannot make himself righteous as righteousness is bestowed by God. The tax collector knew himself to be a sinner, but he left righteous because he was humble and turned to God for mercy. We should never adopt the complacent, self-satisfied attitude of the Pharisee if we want to go to Heaven. The more we know we need mercy, the more we can beg Our Lord for it. True strength comes not from physical might, but from loving with God’s own love.
May we always pray with the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”